I feel the way about fried chicken the way most people feel about pizza. Hell, I feel about fried chicken the way most people feel about world peace, endless riches, or finding their soul mate. Given that no one burns calories like cyclists, I thought I’d do a round-up of my favorite (…and least favorite) fried chicken joints in the city. If this post proves popular, we’re thinking about doing a Tiny Fix Fried Chicken Ride, so share the article with your food-loving carnivorous friends and comment if you want to make that a reality!
THE FAST FOOD BRACKET: WINNER: HAROLD’S
Harold’s In the first iteration of this article, I left off Harold’s, to the consternation of everyone who has ever sopped up a puddle of hot sauce with white bread. But honestly, if you need me to tell you how amazing Harold’s Chicken is, how do you even call yourself a Chicagoan? I know Harold’s takes forever to make your order, and the chicken is dry and salty with a crumbly crust. But I also know that I would be chased down with pitchforks if I gave them anything but top honors. Harold’s is as much of a part of the city as snow, corruption, and Malört.
Krispy Krunchy Chicken (Review by Kaz) “Krispy Krunchy Chicken is better than it has any right to be. And I mean that as fast food chicken, not even taking into account it’s gas station fast food chicken. But they will make it fresh for you if you ask (even if they have stuff in the warming trays) and it’s really, really, really good. And they deliver. The honey butter biscuits are amazing.”
Popeye’s The hypermuscular chicken parts from freakishly bred chickens are plumped with an excess of saline solution, and the meat suffers from a watery juiciness and saltiness. However, the spice mixture in the breading is on point, those crispy biscuits taste like gargling movie theatre popcorn butter, and the red beans and rice is dope.
KFC The chicken has the same shortcomings as Popeye’s, but without the spicy breading to make up for it. The Colonel’s only advantage is that his mashed potato gravy doesn’t have weird little meat bits floating in it that kind of look like the dehydrated beef I always shake off the top of my Cup of Noodle.
THE SOUL FOOD DIVISION: WINNER: MACARTHUR’S
It should be noted I haven’t been to Ruby’s Kitchen yet. Who wants a fried chicken date?
MacArthur’s It’s Obama’s favorite restaurant, and who are you to argue? You have better taste than the man who married Michelle? In addition to superlative fried chicken (that stands up to any fried chicken in the Hipster Fried Chicken League), there’s bbq baked chicken, beef short ribs, cornbread, cabbage, greens, peach cobbler, banana pudding, black eyes peas, macaroni and cheese, yams creating a brown sugar slick across your plate, dresssing, and much more, and it is delicious and so incredibly difficult to not just order everything.
Pearl’s Place The actual chicken is not quite as juicy or flavorful as MacArthur’s, but is still extremely good; it’s down in Bronzeville, and a nice long Sunday bike ride if you’re the kind of person who has to consume 10,000 calories after biking fifteen miles (me). I like the decor, which is all paintings and portraits and art depicting notable figures in Black History.
Chicago’s Home of Fried Chicken and Waffle Listen, I’m not one to complain when I’m eating fried chicken and a waffle, but the chicken here is very dry and the sides are pretty bland and perfunctory. If you have to eat this fried chicken, try it smothered with onions and gravy.
THE HIPSTER FRIED CHICKEN LEAGUE: WINNER: SMALL’S / LEGHORN
Small’s BBQ The dark brown, crunchy breading is incredibly spicy and flavorful, and somehow it’s still crisp and even more flavorful eaten cold out of the fridge the next day. And you will have some left over the next day, because unlike the other hipster fried chicken restaurants they actually give you a ton of food for your money. Small’s is meant to be eaten while hanging out at the old school lesbian bar next door, Lizard’s Liquid Lounge, while the bar pitbull (a total doll) lays at your feet and the bartender serves up ice cold Schlitz in vintage glasses. Bonus: the ribs are also incredibly, heart-rendingly delicious.
Publican Quality Meats Baby sister butcher shop to The Publican, PQM has long captured my heart with the Burger, Beer, and Bourbon events every Tuesday all summer long. Unfortunately, I can’t award the same high accolades to their chicken and waffle special. The portion (and the price) was overwhelming, and while the dark-golden skin and breading had a dizzyingly orgasmic fatty crunch while fresh, the flavor was overwhelmingly that of salt. I tried the leftovers again cold; while Small’s or MacArthur’s chicken is still somehow crunchy and even more spiced and flavorful the next day, a resampling of the Publican’s flaccid chicken convinced me that they neglected to add any significant flavoring to their breading besides an overdose of sodium.
Leghorn Chicken A new addition to the town’s fried chicken game, Leghorn is kind of like the fancy Chick-fil-a, except they donate 2% of their profits to organizations that support gay rights. I’ve only been there once, so I can’t review the entire menu, but you get a decent amount of food for the money (not as much as Small’s, waaaaay more than what you get from the other places in this category). The Nashville Hot chicken is seriously spicy, and makes for an excellent biscuit sandwich. The housemade pickles are flavorful and crunchy. I’m not sure I’d eat their biscuits on their own, but they’re very good in a sandwich context, and they also bake their own buns which I can’t wait to try with their Pickle Brined chicken. Try the hush puppies with a side of their spicy mayo.
Parson’s Chicken and Fish
Honey Butter Fried Chicken The prices are fucking ridiculous, the portions are insulting, I’ve ordered side dishes there that were completely inedible and gross, and the chicken isn’t any better than Leghorn or Small’s. Fuck this place and fuck their hype.
Parson’s Are you going for the negroni slushies, the “elbows in your face” atmosphere, the long waits, or the fish? That’s fine. But don’t go for the chicken; it’s absolutely no better than MacArthur’s/Small’s and you get way less for your money. I thought that maybe my anxiety disorder was unfairly biasing me (I am not cool with a lot of people being packed into a space with me), so I tried getting take out: it was $30 for two people (before tip, no delivery charge, no drinks!), wasn’t actually that much food, and they couldn’t even throw in a napkin or two. Fuck this place.
I would add a Korean fried chicken category, but unfortunately I haven’t had it from enough different restaurants to make comparisons. Crisp is the shit though, and you can even get our buddies at Cut Cats Courier to deliver it to you at home.